Many of the strongest supporters in the refugee resettlement network in Amarillo are Refugee Services of Texas’ volunteer English as a Second Language instructors. The program was founded in 2008 to help refugees acquire vital English language skills in order better integrate into the local community.
Paula, a volunteer ESL instructor, teaches what she describes as “Survival English” in addition to teaching basic grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. She explains, “I work on language skills needed on a daily basis. We learn months, days, body parts, clothing words and sizing systems, skills with banking, shopping, giving and following directions as they try to navigate our city, filling out applications, procedures for going to the doctor, job interviews and applications, and procedures for filling prescriptions and shopping at the pharmacy.”
Curriculum is developed by the volunteer instructors based on the collective proficiency level of his or her students. When asked about managing various educational levels and cultural backgrounds, Janda, a retired teacher and one of the founders of the RST ESL program, explains, “In an average class period, I’m likely to have students who know very little English…some who are almost ready to enter American colleges and many in between. It is difficult to teach the less fluent students without boring the more fluent, and it’s equally difficult to challenge the students who have good English skills without overwhelming the beginners. And occasionally the different cultures of the students within a class come in conflict.”
Despite these difficulties, dedication is unmistakable in the hard work of both the teachers and ESL attendees. Instructors express how much they value the success in the ESL program. “I love watching the light bulb come on when a student understands the concept I’m teaching. Our refugees are so eager to learn…so they can further their careers and improve their lives and those of their families,” Janda said. Evelyn, another volunteer instructor, emphasizes that what she finds most rewarding in teaching refugees is the cultural exchange between teacher and student. “All of my ESL parents and families bless me richly with sharing their culture, motivation to learn English, and desire to transition to self-dependency and success within the American way of life. They share stories about their countries or their persecution. They share their goals for themselves and their children.”